Campaign Under Way for Germany to Join Open Government Partnership

30 January 2012

By Sebastian Haselbeck

Haselbeck is community manager of the Internet & Society Co:llaboratory.

When eight countries committed to launching the Open Government Partnership in the fall of 2011, chaired by the governments of the United States and Brazil, hopes were high among the German “opengov” community that their own government’s commitment might be imminent.

For quite some time, efforts for more transparent, collaborative and participatory government in Germany have had trouble securing high-level backing for all kinds of pilot projects. Change agents in ministries have expressed the view that the wiggle room for experimentation is exhausted, and it needs an official and serious commitment by the federal government in order to secure resources for open government projects to gain foot. Community activists would like to see their issue be made a “Chefsache”, a top government priority.

To date, the German chancellery has not made this commitment, while 52 partner countries have already joined the OGP world-wide. There is some hope that Chancellor Merkel might pull a hat trick during the CeBit, when Brazilian President Rousseff is visiting. [CeBit, to be held in March in Hannover, is the world’s largest IT and communications trade fair.]

Some in the community are secretly hoping for make or break moment: what if Rousseff asks Merkel about her intentions towards the OGP in front of reporters, and Merkel, put on the spot, announces Germany’s intention to join it?

Insiders, however, doubt that the federal government is ready to elevate this topic to such priority, especially now that the EU is in crisis, and the German president (a largely ceremonial role) is entangled in a scandal. Internet policy is not a strength of the German government, whose conservative politicians regularly make enemies among the netizens, that is also why critics are sceptical about whether a commitment to the OGP will be of much substance at all.

Lobbying Effort Begins

Meanwhile, a loose working group of civil society actors has already begun preparing a campaign to lobby Merkel’s government to joining the OGP. In several meetings since last summer, members of the most active OpenGov actors in the Berlin have compiled surveys, position papers, a website (now live at opengovpartnership.de ) and information material, in order to mount some pressure and raise publicity for the cause starting this February.

They hope that by executing a well-planned campaign of public education targeted at policymakers, the federal government might be seeing the issue on their radar more often, and eventually find itself in a position where joining rapidly is the only option. Ideally, responsible departments would already be working with stakeholders involved to draft the action plans and develop the governance mechanisms required to join the OGP.

This working group’s campaign is not revolutionary however, but a culmination of previous and existing efforts.

The Government 2.0 Network Germany, one of the involved NGOs, was founded in 2009 out of the first national barcamp on Open Government (then still under the buzz word “government 2.0”), and has organized one each year ever since. They are joined by such institutions as the Federal Network of Civil Engagement, the Bertelsman Foundation, the Internet & Society Collaboratory, the Open Knowledge Foundation, the Open Data Network, Transparency International, the Participation Foundation, the E-Democracy Initiative and others.

There has been an inflation of pro-transparency or government reform activities in the Berlin area, a discourse that reflects the change in our perception of the state in the digital age and which constantly reaches a wider audience also within parliament and public administrations on all levels. Not all of the above actors are officially part of the working group however, which aims at publishing their idea of governance mechanisms shortly, in expectation of more actors joining its activities.

It remains to be seen how effective the campaign will be, but in other areas, community lobbying is already showing some effect. Apps4Germany was launched last fall, and an Open Data portal is being built at www.daten-deutschland.de as part of the government’s “Open Government strategy” – joining the OGP some say might merely be a formality.

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